Unique diversion program proposed for Wisconsin juvenile offenders

Unique diversion program proposed for Wisconsin juvenile offenders

Earlier this week we wrote that car thefts have been on the rise in Milwaukee lately, particularly vehicles left running and unattended as they warm up in the morning. Police in the area say that high school students are frequently the alleged culprits, and the car theft is often a crime of opportunity for students en route to or from school.

Impulsive acts by teenagers are nothing new. While crimes like this are serious, there are many teenage defendants who are unlikely to reoffend and do not pose a threat to society. In these cases, a court-approved diversion program might be a better alternative to more traditional punishments.

How about introducing arts and culture into a young defendant’s life? Last month, the Milwaukee County Board approved a program known as Shakespeare in the Courts that could be offered as an alternative to jail.

For court-approved offenders who participate, the six-week program would culminate in the performance of an abridged Shakespeare play. Participants would be under the supervision of theater faculty from UW-Milwaukee.

Supporters of the program say that it would teach young offenders to work collaboratively and would likely boost self-esteem in those who participated. They add that the $65,000 cost would be more than covered if the program keeps even one participant out of state incarceration for a year.

But there are certainly critics of the measure as well, including the County Executive, who said he planned to veto it. He and other critics say there is not enough evidence that the program works, and budgets are already tight.

Hopefully the measure will ultimately pass. Creative legal solutions which stress reform rather than simple punishment may offer a humane response to juvenile crime while effectively reducing rates of recidivism.

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, ” County OKs Shakespeare program for young offenders,” Steve Schultze, Dec. 15, 2011